It was hot. So very, very hot. And humid. Temperatures were expected to reach 100 and they met and surpassed that expectation. It was about 105 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. We drove about a half-hour north in relative comfort, air conditioning and comfortable seats in the SUV. Then we reached the turn-off and parked the car at the trailhead. The adventure was about to begin.
We shouldered our backpacks. I was carrying the food and the camp grill in addition to my tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear and clothes. I estimated that my pack weighed in at about 50 pounds. Thankfully, I had a good, well-made hiker’s backpack and the weight was evenly distributed and the shoulder straps were well padded.
I had been looking forward to this trip for about a year now. I had planned on taking a group of 10 men to the mountains of Idaho for four days in July which would include a servant-event project and a couple of nights of wilderness camping. As it turned out, only two men ended up going with me from the Midwest and we met another guy in Idaho. I wasn’t disappointed, though. It was the perfect group for my first attempt at this kind of Advance (because True Men don’t retreat).
So there we were. The four of us at the trailhead, with water and backpacks, ready to hike up into our campsite. It was very, very hot but I was very, very excited. I felt a little like Moses heading off into the wilderness, or John the Baptist, or even Jesus – all who trekked off into the wilderness to commune closely with God in His creation.
Our initial hike was relatively easy. We climbed a little bit, over a hill and then into a meadow that followed the river. The meadow was about a mile long and it was flat and the hiking was easy going.
We came to the end of the meadow and a pretty big hill loomed in front of us. Looking up I could see the dusty trail ascend in switchbacks all the way to the top and over the hill out of sight. We began to climb. It was a steep climb and I began to breath pretty heavy. It was more rough going that I thought it would be.
I had been preparing myself, physically, for this trip over the last couple of months. I went to the gym nearly every day and walked on an inclined treadmill for 45 minutes, lifted some weights and then rode a stationary bike for 45 minutes. But walking and riding in a gym is not exactly the same as shouldering a fifty-pound backpack and hiking up a steep trail in 105-degree heat with the sun pounding down on you.
About three-quarters of the way up this hill, I began to have doubts that I was going to make it. I found myself simply looking at the trail in front of my feet, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. I was praying that I wouldn’t fall back down the hill. I was also praying I wouldn’t fall over due to a heart attack!
As we crested the hill – which felt more like a small mountain to me – the trail leveled out and after a five-minute walk we came to a ledge. We were about 250 feet above the river overlooking our campsite. We dropped our packs and sat down, drinking water and, in my case, tried to catch my breath. As I looked over the campsite, two competing thoughts were going through my mind. The first was how beautiful this scene was and how great God was in creating all of this. It felt as if He had created this just for me and just for that moment in time. The second thought was how foolish I was to think that I could attempt this hike! Up to this point I had been more geared to sitting behind a desk and a laptop. What was I doing out here in the wilderness? Thankfully, the first thought won the competition!
After about 15 minutes, we again shouldered our packs and made our descent to the river. That took about another 45 minutes. We walked out of the wooded trail into another meadow and crossed that to the river’s edge. We had to ford the river to reach our campsite.
We took off our shoes and socks and proceeded to walk across the river, which was about fifty feet across here and about two feet deep.
As hot as the air was, that was how cold the water was. I guess about 55 degrees and that was shockingly cold on bare skin!
Crossing this river looked like it was going to be a “piece of cake.” But a wise person once said that phrases like “a piece of cake” are considered famous last words for a reason. That was the case here.
I wanted to put my feet on the large, smooth rocks, as it was easier on my feet than the small, jagged, sharp rocks. But when I would step on the smooth rocks, I found that they were so slippery that I couldn’t keep my feet or balance when I did! I would end up in the water on my back if I tried to do that. So instead of being able to put my feet where I wanted to, I had to put them where I needed to. That was not the easiest or most comfortable path, but it was the safest and, ultimately, driest path. Along the way, I could rest my feet on the large, smooth rocks, but I couldn’t walk on them.
I’ve found that life is much like this. After forty years, I can see an easy, smooth path for my life that I would love to follow. But I really can’t. God has called me to follow Him and that path is often filled with small, sharp, jagged rocks. It makes for less comfort but much more safety. I can stop and rest at the smooth parts, but I cannot stay there and I cannot live there. Most of the time I would like to be able to live the so-called easy life. Get up when I want to. Spend my day as I want to. Not worry about money so I could do the things that I want to do when I want to do them. Not have responsibilities, cares, or worries. But that isn’t how the life of a true man or woman of God is lived. Because God has called us to be His own man or woman, we are to follow Him on the paths that He leads us on. We are to follow in His footsteps. And those steps were made by nail-scarred feet two thousand years ago. The Son of God still leads us today and it isn’t along a path of large, smooth stones. It can be a path of small, jagged rocks. It can be a path that isn’t easy by the world’s standards. But God’s path that we follow is the one that will lead us to the fulfillment of our faith in Christ – eternal life along “white shores; and beyond them, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” [Adapted from the film The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King]
After about a half-hour I finally reached the far shore of that river and 10 minutes later I was setting up my tent at our campsite. It was an ordeal crossing that river – and I would cross it three more times before heading out of the wilderness – but I’m glad that I had the experience.
© 2015 True Men Ministries